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Perseverance: Tips and Advice on Querying Literary Agents

June 12, 2013

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So, you’ve written a novel, now what? I had no idea the answer to this question when I finished The Energy Crusades. I didn’t write it with the end in mind; I wrote it wondering if I could actually complete it. I had an idea, but writing a beginning, middle and end is much harder than it seems. It took a long time. But I did it. I’ve talked about that process already so I won’t go into it again.

Let’s assume you’ve written a novel, sent it to readers, revised, edited, and hopefully attended a writers conference or two (something I HIGHLY recommend), and now you are ready to query agents. I follow a lot of them on Twitter and they often post invaluable advice on querying. I wasn’t on Twitter when I first started querying, but so much of their advice seems like basic common sense, I’m often baffled that they have to voice it at all.

Here are some tips that helped me catch the attention of my agent (and some others as well):

  • Write a query letter. This seems obvious, but I had no idea how to do this when I started the querying process. In fact, when I attended a writers’ conference, I brought my query letter for my group to critique and it was one of the smartest things I ever did during the whole process. The notes I took away from that (I’ve saved all of them), especially the ones given to me by Kelly Garrett made all difference in my query letter.
  • Research the agent/s before you query them. This means reading their wish lists and submission guidelines.
  • FOLLOW SUBMISSION GUIDELINES. Agents put their submission guidelines up for a reason and it’s silly not to follow them. Often, it means an immediate pass before your query or sample pages are even read. Just follow the guidelines!
  • Query one agent at a time. DO NOT send a generic query letter to a bunch of agents. Make each query letter personal and address the agent by name. Spell it correctly.
  • Be polite. Remember, agents do not owe you anything and you are asking for their time and attention. Treat it like a job interview—yes, you want to like the agent, but you also want the agent to like you.
  • Expect rejection. We would all like to believe that our book is so wonderful that any agent we send it to will surely notice. No. This is unlikely. Think about your own reading preferences. Do you always like every book you read? Do you always like what’s popular or trendy? Probably not. Does that mean you hate the author? No. It just means the story wasn’t for you, and YOUR story won’t be for everybody either. When faced with rejection, persevere! Take any and all advice you can get and keep honing your querying skills.
  • Know your genre. Know it, and state it in your query. If you aren’t sure, think about where your book would be shelved in a bookstore and what books would be next to it.
  • For more tips and advice, you can read what my agent, Stacey Donaghy has to say on the subject. little birds
  1. Excellent advice, thank you. There are other places where these points are mentioned, but you’ve done the hard work and put them altogether in a highly useful list. I love what you say about rejection as I recently blogged on that topic. If you have time, please leave a comment for others to read at:
    Otherwise, may I have permission to cut and paste your paragraph on rejection? Many thanks.

    • Thank you for reading and I will check out your post now. You may copy and paste as well but I’d love if you’d also refer to the post if you do that.

      • Thank you – your comments on my post are great, so no need to copy and paste. I will refer to your post in my reply as I think others will find your tips very useful.

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